What are they?
Accidents are common in childhood. Most of them aren't serious, but a significant number each year are fatal or cause disability.
Accidents, especially those affecting children, are now often referred to as 'unintentional injuries'.
What causes them?
The list of possible causes for accidents is endless. Road traffic accidents are a major cause of fatal accidents, especially when the child is a pedestrian, followed by fire, drowning, suffocation, falls, inhalation of a foreign body and poisoning.
Head injury leading to brain damage is the main cause of disability from accidents, while accidents that cause disfigurement or cosmetic damage, such as burns and scars, can lead to profound psychological problems.
Children are vulnerable to particular types of accidents depending on their age and stage of development.
Toddlers, for example, tend to be at risk from falls, burns and ingestion of poisons, while older children are more likely to fall from trees or to have a bicycling accident. Boys are statistically more likely to be involved in accidents around the home and road than girls.
What are the symptoms?
Accidents can lead to traumatic injuries. For example, damage to normally functioning tissues such as broken bones, cuts and wounds, bruises and hemorrhages, burns and scalds, which are clearly related to the event.
But sometimes the lack of any obvious harm can be falsely reassuring. In particular, trauma to the abdomen can lead to internal injuries, such as a ruptured spleen. This may not be apparent at first but can cause the sudden onset of severe symptoms, such as collapse, some time later. The effects of accidental poisoning and of smoke inhalation are two other examples where the effects can be delayed.
What's the treatment?
If you know or suspect your child has had an accident (many are not clearly witnessed), try to keep calm and quickly examine the child for injury, without moving them, while asking witnesses what occurred.
If they are unconscious, put them into the recovery position. Minor injuries may be treated at home, but if your child is bleeding, has lost consciousness (even if only briefly), has major injuries, possible abdominal injuries or may have inhaled smoke, call for urgent medical help.
It's better that children are checked out at hospital and found to be all right than a serious injury is missed.
How can they be prevented?
Many things can be done to prevent accidents, from making your house a safe place to vigilant supervision of small children at play.